I was born in New York City and grew up in Jersey, and I’m Jewish, which means at least two things… I know great pizza and great Chinese food!
That’s the joke, right? That Jews know great Chinese food… and spend Christmas day at the movies and the local Chinese restaurant. I know I did as a kid. It was tradition. But it’s not that easy finding a place open on Xmas these days.
So no… this is NOT a debate on keeping Kosher… nor a debate on whose pizza is better… New York, New Haven or Chicago style…
It is, however, a post on something that I am in the midst of dealing with and exploring.
When I was a kid I loved the old Family Style Chinese Menus… where you got to pick one or two things from Column A and then Column B. I have to say, trying to find a photo of that kind of Old School menu was not easy, so this will have to do. (And yes, forgive me for some of the Non-Kosher menu options).
My question is this… Can we pick and choose the things we like and love about Judaism in order to find a real and individual spiritual connection, or do we need to take the menu just as it is?
Many of us want or even need to order things with no MSG… maybe light or no oil…
Many of us have specific needs, dietary or otherwise…
So how do we stay united as a people… maintain tradition and laws… and yet each be able to find our own specific and individual way in?
This seems to be a real battle, and while I will not get into politics here, just look at the current situation in Israel, and especially the debate over the Iran deal… Jews are divided, and while it seems to fall along the lines of Liberal vs. Conservative… and Reform vs. Conservative vs. Orthodox… the Jewish people are seeing things so differently that it can be confusing and frustrating… and also lead to vicious arguments and name calling.
I am on the path… and where that path will lead me, I just don’t know.
I am somewhere between Reform and Orthodox…
I am not Kosher… I do not observe every Shabbat, though I love it and love the idea of shutting down and shutting off, electronically speaking…
And while many of my friends love to say “You’ll get there…” I have no idea, at least for myself, what THERE really is yet, and what it will look like.
Observing every Shabbos? Probably.
Keeping Kosher? Perhaps. There ARE Kosher Chinese places you know!
But at least for now, I am ordering Family Style, picking and choosing what works for me… Yet exploring the menu so much deeper than I ever thought I would.
I am reading every word, inhaling every description… debating and discussing every single ingredient that goes into this wonderful and fantastic meal we call Judaism.
I talk with many Chefs (aka Rabbis)… study with them, observe their techniques…
Some are rigid and by the “book.” Every single ingredient is measured. There is no room for anything other than what is written on the recipe.
Others are more improvisational, with a clear Classical training, but able to go by taste or mood. They use what is fresh that day… what they find at the Farmers Market… and create something new and exciting, yet practical and grounded in all that they have learned. They want to make an immediate impact and realize that sometimes, in order to do that, you have to go with what you have and make do.
Black and white has its purpose, especially in the realm of wrong and right. But there are so many colors in the rainbow… shades and hues and subtleties that make debates and discussions so exciting… and keep a religion current and relevant and alive.
We need consistency. We need tradition. But we also need to adapt and grow and learn.
There are things in the Torah I have great issues with. And there are things in the Torah I find profound and wise beyond anything. Lessons to live a full and productive and joyous life.
If you tell me I have to take it all as is, I am not sure I can do that. At least not yet… and maybe never. And if you force me to… push me against a wall, scream at me in the kitchen, you are going to lose me.
For the Rabbis/Chefs who allow me to question… to experiment… to bring in ingredients they may not know… Who welcome it… who do not shy away from the debate… who do not dismiss my queries… I thank you.
I am learning so much from you… Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld… Rabbi Avi Rabin…
You allow me to struggle and wrestle… to not agree with everything… to not lie down but to jump and twist and grab herbs and spices that may seem strange… not part of the recipe.
And to me, this is where Judaism thrives. I honor all of those who came before me… who created the cookbook… the menus… the dishes… and to the notion that we can still study them, still make them, and yet tweak each and every one to make them relevant and potent and into a wonderful, memorable meal… a meal shared with family and friends… a picnic lunch… or a full on Shabbat dinner…
Not everyone will agree, but as long as long as we respect each other… and respect the process and the path and the journey… As long as we break bread, say the Ha-motzi and share a meal together… Judaism will survive and thrive and be fully alive. Amen.